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The Aardvark (Orycteropus afer) is the only species in its order. It is literally like no other animal on earth. The aardvark's name means "earth pig," but they are not related to pigs. There are some physical resemblances, the sparse hair on their bodies is course, their back is arched and they seem to have a snout on the end of their long, narrow face, but they also have ears like a rabbit, webbed feet like a duck, claws like a bear and the tail of a kangaroo. Their long tongue resembles that of an Anteater, but they don't belong in their family tree either. The aardvark is truly one of a kind.

Aardvarks live throughout Africa, mostly south of the Sahara Desert. They are nocturnal, solitary and somewhat nomadic. Aardvarks are found wherever termite mounds and ant hills are plentiful, this being their preferred food. As the aardvark progresses from one mound to the next, it will dig small (10 ft long), temporary burrows in which to hide from predators and/or sleep the day away. A larger, more permanent burrow of up to 40 feet is used as a primary shelter and breeding chamber. Aardvarks like to live in open grasslands or savannahs where the soil is soft and sandy. The temporary shelters aardvarks create do not go to waste. Pythons, porcupines and other small mammals, even birds, will move in when the aardvark moves on.

Aardvarks are classified as omnivores, but they are far more specialized than that. They are truly insectivores, consuming termites and ants exclusively. When food is scarce and they are forced to, aardvarks will eat other soft-bodied insects or wild melons. Aardvarks have an excellent sense of smell which they use to find food, and wonderful hearing which they use to keep from becoming food. The aardvark's entire body is built around eating termites. Their strong, shovel-shaped claws are hard enough to break through the outer crusts of termite mounds. Their 1 ½ foot long sticky tongue can extend down tunnels and chambers, lapping up the insects inside. The aardvark's head is elongated and its snout has hairs and fleshy folds that can close, keeping dirt, dust and insects out. While eating, the aardvark's long, rabbit-like ears are rotated backwards, listening for any sign of approaching danger. When confronted with a particularly large mound, the aardvark will stand on its back legs, bracing itself with its thick, tapering tail, much as a kangaroo would. The aardvark's skin is extremely tough, protecting it from the bites and stings of its prey.

The aardvark is hunted by wild dogs, pythons, lions, cheetahs, leopards and man. Aardvarks are not fast runners but they can quickly dig a defensive burrow. The aardvark's tail is thick and strong and they will use it as a club. Their sharp claws are formidable weapons, and if caught in the open, the aardvark will roll on its back to engage all four feet in the fight. As mentioned, their hide is extremely tough and acts as its own line of defense. Aardvarks are not a threatened species.

Aardvarks are not social and only get together during the breeding season. Due to their solitary, nocturnal lifestyle, not much is known about their mating or about the rearing of their offspring. After a 7 month gestation, one young (two are very rare) is born, usually in October or November. The young is about 6 lbs at birth. By 6 months of age, the young aardvark is capable of finding its own food and will leave its mother to dig its own burrow.

Fun Aardvark Facts

- Aardvark is the first word in your English dictionary.

- Aardvarks are about 2 feet tall at the shoulder and generally weigh between 110 – 170 pounds.

- Another nickname for the aardvark is the "Ant Bear."

- An aardvark's claws are as strong as a pick ax.

- An aardvark can eat 50,000 termites in one sitting.


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